There was an Urbanspoon get together at Chai Pani recently, and Grant Goggans of Marie Let’s Eat started teasing me that he’s 500 views from passing me on the Urbanspoon rankings. If he does, more power to him. I’m at a point where between either having a very high stress job situation or no job at all (my present circumstance), I haven’t had the time to eat as I once did. That I’ll get passed is inevitable.

I’ve never wanted to be the conversation around food in this town. I’ve been quite happy just being a part of it. If I can still be a part of that conversation, that’s enough. If I’ve held the ranking for some time, it’s a tribute to the difficulties of the Atlanta commute. I ate in part to deal with the time it took to commute back and forth from work.

~~~

Ok, I’ve been between jobs – still are actually – and I had a job offer last week. In celebration, I decided to do something about those costly cable bills, as my wife had a tech say we could cut the bills. One approach was Comcast Triple play, which would allow us to eliminate phone service bills and the long distance bill. We decided to go that route. So I headed to Grayson kast Saturday, and got a deal, which went something like this:

1. About a $60 reduction in cost once the new service was added. New price good for a year.
2. All my old shows plus HBO.
3. Twice the Internet speed.
4. A service tech to come out this Wednesday to install the phone.
5. I was going to purchase my own cable modem to support, which would be installed this Monday.

So it’s Monday. The modem has arrived, an Arris TM822G. I don’t need more modem, because I have a wifi router behind it. I only need a phone jack for a base set, and we have receivers all around the house.

It’s not easy getting in. I call, find the right spot in the queue, and they offer a call back service, to call me back within “eight to twelve minutes”. Saying yes at this point was my first mistake. After waiting half an hour without any callback whatsoever, I call again and stay on the line, and finally get a tech. So we begin the process of adding the new modem, which in general should be seamless and take about five minutes.

Except of course, she can’t add the modem to the system. She can’t add the modem to the system..

because without informing me, my order was cancelled on Sunday, the day after I made it.

She can’t add my order back because she can’t port my phone number, so I get transferred to Sales. supposedly. The transfer goes on for about 5 minutes and then disconnects. This sets the tone for about two more hours of hell. I call in and get disconnected. I call in and get someone like my first lady, they encounter the same issues, and they transfer me to Sales, and I get disconnected. This goes on and on and on, totalling five disconnections in all.

Finally I call upgrades directly. I get another lady who goes through the same process. At this point, my five minute modem swap has cost me two and a half hours, almost all of it in queue. Then she asks, “did they start the port of the phone number on Saturday?”

“Yes, they did.”

I then go on to say I was called on Sunday to validate that I really wanted my phone number switched.

“Then that’s the problem. We use a third party verification service, and they take 24 to 72 hours to get the confirmation back to us. We’re not going to be able to proceed until that is done.”

Ok, so that’s why the order was cancelled. The phone number transfer wasn’t validated. But it also means I’m in limbo. My new job starts in December. And if this runaround continues, Comcast won’t be able to put in the new phone number until I’m just starting my new job. And out where I live, there is a fair chance that the tech won’t even show, a 100% chance if you schedule them in the evenings.

But the take home for me is that the provisioning system for Comcast is hopelessly broken. The modem add, which should have taken five minutes (and note, while I was on the phone and the new modem connected, my daughter started watching Netflix over our Internet. The modem was working just fine), ended up taking a couple hours and we had to swap back to the old one because the new one couldn’t be added to the system. A software flaw cost me at least two hours.

No one informed me my service order had been cancelled. What if I had taken leave on Wednesday in anticipation of a tech showing up?

Now I’ve lost the appointment I was going to have. The new one? I suspect I’ll get this all set up in December, something that will cost me work time on a brand new job, and if the past is any indication, it will take 2-3 attempts for the tech to even show. As the change nets me $60 a month, this sheer incompetence on Comcast’s part makes them money.

I live tweeted all this. DISH was making offers via twitter as this happened. If I had a satellite view at home, I might have gone that route.

Bone Daddy’s is a restaurant that’s easy to miss in an evaluation. It’s a barbecue restaurant in Texas, but their best barbecue may be their smoked chicken wings. It’s a restaurant with a largely female staff dressed in a revealing style: short skirts, tight leather vests. The staff is professional in my experience, very much so. Asking staff what is good here won’t hurt you a bit.

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I did a bit more than that. I asked waiters in restaurants nearby. They pointed out the strengths of the food aren’t in the traditional sliced brisket, but in other dishes, like their stuffed jalapenos and their wings. On one of the days I showed, the chopped brisket was better than the sliced. Ask staff what is good here.

Sliced brisket sandwich. Not bad, but other meats are better here.

Sliced brisket sandwich. Not bad, but other meats are better here.

Their chopped brisket was more flavorful than their sliced.

Their chopped brisket was more flavorful than their sliced.

The stuffed jalapenos are excellent, with BBQ chicken and cheese.

The stuffed jalapenos are excellent, with BBQ chicken and cheese.

The smoked wings are the "must order" here, richly smoked and delicious.

The smoked wings are the “must order” here, richly smoked and delicious.

This is a good spot to watch football. Get seated in the right spots, and you’ll have wall to wall televisions on either side of you. If a local team is playing, the effect is pretty amazing. Beers here run from American industrial beers to craft beers. The craft beer selection tends to Texas brews, Southern brews, and tends to lighter beers (witbiers, pilsners and the like). That said, even if you tweet every beer you’re served via Untapp’d, you should find plenty to drink here.

One last word about staff. Often staff in restaurants of this kind have the habits of incurably spoiled brats, spending more time with friends and themselves than their own customers. I saw none of this here. The impression overall was of a professionally trained staff that knew what they were doing, giving both large parties and small groups adequate time to order food. There is a lot of tag team staffing here. On a typical day, multiple staffers will be involved in delivering food to a single table.

My impressions may been affected by the staffer I had on my first visit, who later I found was a part time bartender. That leads to the last word of advice if you’re in a restaurant whose pretty girls are part of the routine: if you can’t get enough service, head to the bar. The best of staff will be there. They will be the most busy, but you’ll get treated right.

Bone Daddy’s House of Smoke
8856 Spring Valley Rd
Dallas, TX 75240
(214) 575-3050

Bone Daddy's House Of Smoke on Urbanspoon

This eatery occupies the spot long held by El Chico in this town, and is a more focused eatery than the stock Mexican chain. Their focus is fajitas, and they do a solid, not spectacular, job of providing this Tex-Mex staple.

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We came at lunch, and they plate a better lunch fajita than most do.

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As you can see, the fajitas are served in a metal liner on the wooden plate. Plating on metal is important, as it’s part of the presentation. A good shop will spray citrus juice into a hot liner before serving, so the dish arrives steaming.

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Chimi V’s manage to do a solid job with things like tacos and enchiladas as well. In all, Chimi’s is a respectable lunch spot, and can be recommended on those grounds.

Chimi V’s
2050 Old Minden Rd
Bossier City, LA 71111
(318) 741-3144

Chimi V's Fajita Factory on Urbanspoon

I was shopping for meat at the supermarket, and not finding many bargains among the beef offerings. There were some interesting cuts among the pork, though. Hormel had these pork loin roasts for around $5.00, but they were as much as 30% water by weight. I wasn’t interested in buying water at 3-4 dollars a pound. There were also some pork loin roasts though, that had been priced reduced to 3.50 a pound and that sounded interesting. I picked one up.

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Looking around for pork loin sous vide recipes, the one I found first was this one, by Dan Gourmet. I will note he brines his meat overnight, and uses maple syrup as his sweetener. I’m diabetic, and I didn’t want to add anything too ridiculously sweet to the meat. Further, I wasn’t wanting to brine overnight, or for that matter, use any potent brining recipes (this one, for example, has a fair amount of negative comment on the web, if you’ll look around. See here, or here). I decided I’d find a simple basic recipe, and work from there.

A generic introduction to brining is this About.com article. This article on CookShack.com talks about brining in the context of smoking meats. (1) More to my purposes, two online resources that are good for simple brining formulas are found on food.com and thekitchn.com. The first resource, from food.com, is a generic brine for multiple meats, useful, for example, in plumping up a chicken. The second reference, from thekitchn.com and Emma Christensen, is a base brine plus some aromatic suggestions.

In terms of aromatics (spices) that might go well with a pork loin roast, a place to start is here.

As a sweetener, my wife has found Truvia to be reliable. With Truvia, 3/4 tablespoon of the product replaces 2 tablespoons of sugar. In terms of aromatics used in pork brines, Dan Gourmet uses peppercorns, and I saw another brine that used 3 cloves of garlic. Those were the aromatics I used. Often when infusing flavors through the brine, you will see recipes that use 1 part hot water (steep the aromatics in these), one part room temperature water, and then two parts ice cubes. (2) I didn’t do anything fancy. I started with cold water, and once my sugar and salt were dissolved, added my aromatics.

Used to make the brine.

Used to make the brine.

So, ultimately, for a pound and a half of pork, I used:

  • 1.5 quarts of water.
  • 3 tbsp of salt.
  • Truvia equivalent to 3 tbsp of sugar.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed.
  • 1 tbsp of crushed black pepper, from a pepper mill.

A note: When dissolving salt and sugar, use the least amount of water possible to dissolve these two items, and then add the remaining liquid and aromatics.

This was just enough brine to cover the roast. I let the meat soak in the refrigerator for an hour and 45 minutes, and then removed it.

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I washed the meat under the faucet, dried it with paper towels, and then chose a couple spices to add to the meat once we bagged it.

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Along with thyme (pictured above) I added a bit more crushed black pepper and some onion powder. I made the working assumption that garlic flavor was imparted by the brine. This then was sealed and placed in the fridge for an hour or two, until it became time to cook.

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I cooked the meat in a sous vide apparatus at 140 F for 6 hours.

Pork in the pot.

Pork in the pot. Because of the algorithm used by the Auberge to control temperature, the temperature peaks above 140 degrees for a while.

Afterwards, we fished the meat out of the pot. The smell of the meat was fantastic. There are plenty of juices, so if you can follow Stefan Gourmet’s formula for handing sous vide juices, you can make a reduction from this liquid.

Finished.  The aroma is notable coming out of the pot.

Finished. The aroma is notable coming out of the pot.

The meat, sliced. Slices didn't last long.

The meat, sliced. Slices didn’t last long.

The meat itself was essentially white, was flavorful, and was really juicy. The word that comes to mind is amazing. The chunk of meat lasted about 10 minutes. We cut off slices and ate it on the spot. In terms of pleasing just about everyone in my family, this compares to a sous vide buffalo sirloin, and my wife much prefers pork to steak.

Notes:

(1) An important point made in this article is that the combined osmotic effect of both sugar and salt are important in “sugar” brines (i.e. brines that contain sugar). Both the amount of sugar and the amount of salt are important. This was not something I caught onto until after I had made the brine above, and probably affects the ability of Truvia to really replace sugar in a brine.

(2) Indian cooks “break open” spices by pan frying spices in ghee, and I can’t help but wonder if something similar could be done in a non-stick pan with a very minimal amount of oil or cooking spray. That’s an experiment for another time.

As football season arrives, Summit’s in Snellville is one of the better football options because of the beer, the food, the screens. Summits will put every NFL game up on Sundays. Their menus are seasonal, a base menu plus extras for the occasion, and as we’re smack in the middle of October, Oktoberfest options are available currently.

This is not the only eatery with Oktoberfest options in the region. Red Robin, in the Shoppes (formerly the Avenue) has an Oktoberfest burger, if you like that kind of thing. But Summit’s tends to provide both unique beers this time of year (for example, a plentiful supply of German wheat, or wit, beers), food options you don’t get any other time (a lot of sausage, or brat, options), on top of the seasonal football.

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One thing I didn’t know they provided were beer flights. This is a pre-selected set of 5 or 6 beers, starting around 10 dollars, that present a range of options to the drinker. The serving size is usually smaller, about half a normal serving per beer. Summit’s has three beer flights at this time, a light to dark flight ($10), an IPA flight ($15), and a high gravity beer (high alcohol content) flight ($25). In the photo above is the light to dark flight, which I had while watching football one Saturday. I recommend this flight. It’s not expensive, in bar terms, for the beers you get. The taste and flavor contrasts are worth the trouble.

Summits Wayside Tavern
3334 Stone Mountain Highway
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 736-1333

Summits Wayside Tavern on Urbanspoon

This is a chocolate shop that I’ve enjoyed for a long time. For many years it was a member of the Schakolad chain, but more recently they’ve gone independent.

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We like their spicy chocolates and we like their truffles. Truffles here cost about a dollar each (a box of 24 runs $30.00 I believe), and are well worth the trouble. I tried a dark chocolate truffle as a comparison piece. A di Amano chocolate starts out modestly and has flavors that build and then linger, it seems, forever. I like that, as it reminds me of the best hard cheeses.

di Amano Chocolate
1100 Hammond Road NE
Suite 430-A
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(770) 730-9770

Lamb shanks were a meat I picked up while picking up lamb chops. Dalia’s does a mean lamb shank, and I was looking for something straightforward to do with lamb, that didn’t involve a lamb steak style prep. Stefan Gourmet had a good looking lamb shank recipe, so I took his approach when trying to make this dish.

The meat itself came from Australia and was, to be plain, a little butchered. The pieces were nearly cut in two in the middle.

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We coated the meat in olive oil, the leaves of fresh thyme, salt, a pepper blend, a light dusting of garlic and onion powder and sealed the meat in a bag.

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This went into a sous vide pot and was cooked for 48 hours at 144 F. The smell of the meat after cooking was fantastic.

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Though plans had changed in the two days of cooking. I still went ahead and recovered the lamb juices. Since solids will form with unheated sous vide juices, these were poured into a pot and heated till solids formed. These solids were then strained, using a collander and wet paper towels, and placed in a jar for later use.

Solid forming in the lamb juices as they heat. The brown layer on top is later strained  off the juices.

Solid forming in the lamb juices as they heat. The brown layer on top is later strained off the juices.

The meat itself was very good, but very reminiscent of the kind of meats the Chinese favor. It’s as if the breakdown of all the connective tissue left it with a lot more gelatinous character. It also reminded me of meats that have been stewed for many hours, but without the water associated with that kind of treatment.

More gelatinous than I expected, very tender, and delicious.

More gelatinous than I expected, very tender, and delicious.

Because the meat had been nearly doubly cut, it never did hold up to much of any kind of post prep, falling apart easily. All that said, I’d do it again. Meats nearly cut in two shouldn’t be used as stand alone entrees, but perhaps as the source of meats for sandwiches, quick soups, or as a meat topping for a pasta dish.

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